Wearing a mask is an equity issue

When public health has left us behind, we must centre equity to move forward

illustration of a bus full of people wearing masks
People shouldn’t need laws to care about others, but they do. ILLUSTRATION: Andrea Choi / The Peak

By: Michelle Young, Editor-in-Chief

Since March 2022, masks are no longer mandatory in public spaces. Not only is this a huge public health and human rights failure, but it’s evidence that this province and country cares more about the façade of moving forward than protecting the lives of its citizens. 

Before I get hit with the “COVID-19 is mild and we have the tools” rhetoric, I’d like to preface this piece with a reminder that COVID-19 is still killing large amounts of people, disabling many others, and public health failures are leaking into our healthcare system. Directly or indirectly, this affects all of us. 

After two years of pandemic precautions, and pleading with people to do the bare minimum, I’m exhausted. I can talk about all the studies, news pieces, and evidence that backs universal masking, but as long as it isn’t “required,” lots of people don’t care. But wearing a mask is more than a simple requirement — it’s an equity issue. 

Back in 2020, many spoke on how COVID-19 disproportionality affects disabled people, low-income individuals, and people of colour. These groups are still being affected by COVID-19. It should go without saying that these lives are worth protecting. However, virtual events are no longer as widespread, public spaces are still widely inaccessible, and many leftists protesting human rights are forgetting about disability solidarity. 

The same people who gladly wore a mask when required have peeled back their “commitment to equity.” Organizations who champion themselves as equitable and accessible are cleaning their hands of any responsibility. On an individual level, wearing a mask will help curb infections, protecting yourself and those around you. On a larger scale, event organizers and institutions should be keeping in mind how they can create COVID-19 safe spaces for everyone. Anything less than that is exclusionary. 

You cannot claim you care about equity, accessibility, or disabled people if you aren’t helping to create safe spaces for everyone — this includes the basic practice of masking. When mandated, this wasn’t an issue for the majority of people, and polls show that most are willing to mask.

If you’re someone who cares about human rights, or even just the well-being of others, you should wear a mask. It shows you’re not just following BCCDC “guidelines” without question, since their recommendations and information have been all over the place — often lacking data and precautionary principles to back themselves. The Canadian government is not known to have progressive policies on climate change, racial equality, or disability rights to begin with, despite what many believe. We must critically think about how these guidelines disproportionately affect the same groups we claim to care about. 

If you can help make public spaces safer for everyone, why wouldn’t you? Wearing a mask should not be a personal choice — but by government guidelines, it now is. Make the right one.

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